The Four Types of Writing, Part Four: Romanticism and Realism Were Born a Twin

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This article is the fourth in a four part series which defines the four major types of fiction.

Here we are at part four, readers and future writers! In the previous three posts, we discussed Romanticism, Realism, and Naturalism. Of these three types, Naturalism strikes me as the worst kind of writing in the universe. Pure or Pessimistic Realism also lacks appeal for me because, more often than not, it removes the spiritual portion of man’s life from fiction. Pure Romanticism is no better; it can lead to blind sentiment and deadly pride in the powers of man.

We appear to have three paths before us, readers and future writers. The first avenue is bright and airy, a highway across life’s prairies. It leads to Blind Romanticism. The second lane is just as straight, worn smooth by much traffic, but dimmer, choked off from the sun by tall trees and bordered with low growth with vines at the edges. It allows neither rest nor recreation. That is the Path of Realism. The third route’s entrance is overhung with dark, skeletal, gnarled, and close-packed trees. It conceals a cave that becomes a tunnel, and from this yawning space issues an endless stream of strange, disturbing noises. These seem the only paths available, you say; which one is a writer to choose?

First, I must point out that there is a fourth path here. It is a winding switchback forest road; we cannot see its end or much of its interior, due to the twists and the occasional shadows of the graceful trees which line the trail. Setting out upon this thoroughfare, we meet Homer, who introduces us to Odysseus, Telemachus, and Penelope. After exchanging pleasantries with them, we continue on, past a glimmering castle. There we encounter a knight, who walks along with us for a time, telling us of the many wonders of this forest.

Eventually, however, he must turn aside to save a fair damsel threatened by a devious wizard. Promising to make an appearance at the wedding, we journey on, to meet Shakespeare in deep conversation with Shylock and Hamlet. We stop to chat with them, and as dusk falls, we move on once more, passing by McClintock’s Ranch and the Ponderosa. As we search for a place to spend the evening we stumble upon the campsite of Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy. Invited here for the night, we join them in a recitation of “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” all the while watching the stars twinkle overhead.

This is the path of the Romantic Realist, readers and future writers, and we can see many markers here left by passersby over the centuries.

But I will not tell you to take the path of the Romantic Realist. It is not for me to decide which road you should travel. It is up to the particular writer to choose a path and set out upon it. I would certainly urge other authors not to become Naturalists, Pessimistic Realists, or Blind Romantics, but the truth is that what you write and how you decide to write it is not up to me at all. It is up to you. I control only what I create.

If, however, you are a future writer who wishes to aspire to the spiritual heights inherent in Romanticism without falling into its traps, this is the type of writing you want. As stated above, it may be called “Romantic Realism.” Romantic Realism combines the best of both its parent disciplines; you get the spiritual sense and aspirations of Romanticism, but they are tempered by a Realistic understanding of sinful man in his fallen environment. In other words, you get the best of both worlds, because these types of writing each recognize the two vital halves of reality.

Now that this definition is settled, and you are presumably reading further because you wish to at least understand more about the Romantic/Realistic path, the first question we must ask ourselves is: Just what is spiritual aspiration?

Let’s start with what spiritual aspiration is not. It is not the promotion of a particular religion over another. It is not didactic fiction meant to appeal to a minor demographic interested only in reinforcing the morals set down by a particular religion. It is not a pie-in-the-sky idea that everyone will go to Heaven and there is no Hell for mankind to fear.

The spiritual aspiration in Romantic Realism is direct and to the point. This aspiration recognizes that we – humanity – come from outside space and time. It understands, innately if not reasonably, that we were “designed” for eternity from the beginning of our race. This spiritual awareness of Romantic/Realistic fiction also allows us to sense that we are in some manner, perhaps indefinable, fallen creatures capable of evil.

At the same time, however, it realizes that we are not orphans left to fend for ourselves. It sees that there is good and evil in this universe and that both are at war. However clearly or dimly it comprehends this conflict, this type of fiction intuits the fact that good will eventually defeat evil. Those who fight iniquity today may not live to witness its overthrow, but just because they fight against overwhelming odds does not mean that good will lose.

Where Blind Romanticism claims there is no evil, and Realism and Naturalism decry the immorality in the world without offering a solution, Romantic Realism sees things differently. It recognizes that evil exists, first and foremost, and that it is terrible and powerful. Next, it understands that the only way to stop evil is if good men and women stand up to fight against the darkness. They may die fighting, but Romantic Realism believes it is better for them to go down in battle trying to achieve something good, true, and beautiful rather than to die after a long life of slavery in darkness.

“Yes, well, that sounds nice,” some of you are saying, “But it isn’t very clear. And it does not tell me how to avoid the pitfalls and traps of Romanticism or Realism.”

Au contrare, readers and future writers. But since you insist, we will now go through three very different stories – one book trilogy, one film trilogy, and one television series – and see how the authors of these works created Romantic/Realistic fiction. The last story will be a bit obscure, but I think it is worth studying for that reason alone.

We will start with the fantasy trilogy which changed the world – The Lord of the Rings.

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The Lord of the Rings

Because of the nature of this work, we will start by explaining what The Lord of the Rings is NOT. It is not didactic, teaching the reader the tenets of the Catholic Faith through the dialogue between the characters or the narrative. It does not promote Catholicism by searing the reader’s eyeballs with Church history, doctrine, or pageantry. And it most certainly does not say everyone is going to Heaven and there really is no Hell at all.

This is despite the fact that Catholicism is baked into every single inch of Middle-earth. If you want to know more about that, however, you will have to go speak to Jonathan Witt, Jay W. Richards, or Joseph Pearce for more details. I mention it here to make one important point: the beliefs and understandings of a faith can be woven into a story in such a way that the reader never realizes what beliefs he is unconsciously absorbing. Beat him or her over the head with your religion (or lack thereof), future writers, and you are going to lose a large percentage of whatever audience you wish to acquire.

Now we will check off the Romantic/Realistic qualities The Lord of the Rings DOES have. Does the trilogy recognize that good and evil exist, that they are at war, and that good will eventually defeat evil? Sauron is a servant of the wicked Ainur Morgoth, who is opposed to Illúvatar (God). Morgoth and Sauron are, essentially waging war against Illúvatar for possession of His creation, particularly Men, Elves, Dwarves, and Hobbits. And because Illúvatar is infinite and Morgoth and Sauron are finite, it is plain to see Who is going to win this debate at the end of time. So yes, LotR checks this Romantic/Realisitic box quite nicely.

Now, does LotR recognize that mankind comes from outside of time and is destined for eternity? At the end of Return of the King, Frodo joins the Elves, Gandalf, and Bilbo in their journey to the Undying Lands. The Undying Lands are not Heaven but a domain of the mightiest of the Ainur, or archangels, who loved Middle-earth so much they made their abode here. They have had to hide it from prying human eyes but, at this time, the Elves can still reach the Undying Lands, and they take Frodo with them.

The Undying Lands would be more of a stepping off point for Frodo and Bilbo to reach eternity rather than the entrance into eternity itself. But there are plenty of examples in the trilogy and the rest of the Middle-earth books which mention that Men, unlike Elves and Dwarves, are not bound to the “circles of the world” but pass beyond them at death. Again, if indirectly, The Lord of the Rings checks this box, too.

Then we have the third criteria: does LotR show knowledge of the fact that we are in, some indefinable manner, fallen creatures prone to evil but not orphans left to fend for ourselves? In the post on the Via Romantica, I used Frodo and Gandalf to show this primary understanding of Tolkien’s. This time, I am going to use three other Middle-earth characters to make the same point.

The first character to mention is Gollum/Sméagol. Gollum is a perfect example of the evil that men can do. Sméagol’s desire for the Ring leads him to murder his friend Déagol so that he may possess it. After this, he uses the Ring to spy out the secrets of his neighbors and family. He employs this knowledge against them to get what he wants, until they finally become tired of his malice and banish him. He then makes his home by a lake at the bottom of a mountain, where he survives on raw fish and orcs.

Gollum carries on his gruesome cannibalistic practices during his search for Bilbo. He crawls into woodsmen’s huts during the night specifically looking for cradles, killing and devouring helpless babies in order to survive as he makes his way West toward the Shire. Clearly, Tolkien saw the depths of evil to which man can sink. If he did not, Gollum would be far less disgusting than he is.

Next we have Boromir. A great warrior with courage and a good heart, Boromir nevertheless proves to have feet of clay. He alone of the Fellowship succumbs to the power of the Ring, trying to take it from Frodo. On its own, the Ring’s greatest strength is its ability to tempt others – mainly Men – to follow through on their sinful thoughts or desires. Boromir proves utterly unable to resist the Ring’s siren call, no matter how many warnings he receives from the Fellowship and the Wise concerning its treachery and malevolence.

Despite this, Tolkien spared him Gollum’s fate. Oddly enough, he saved Boromir through death. The Man redeems himself by doing his best to protect Merry and Pippin, paying with his life for his sin. While the scene is sad, it is not a despairing one. Boromir dies forgiven, and therefore safe, leaving behind a memory of honor and pride unsullied by his last, greatest transgression.

The last character of Tolkien’s I wish to mention is Denethor, the Steward of Gondor. In his own way, Denethor is almost as bad as Gollum. Gazing into the Palantir in the night Denethor, the ultimate Realist of Middle-earth, looks not for hope but for confirmation of his despair. Sauron is only too happy to show him what he unconsciously desires to see, leading the Steward to fall into the madness which ends his life and leads him to nearly murder his second son.

One might thus see in Denethor not only a display of human sin and folly, but also a rebuke to the Pessimistic Realist. The Steward of Gondor puts his hope in his own strength, not in the power of Illúvatar. So when he sees corsairs bearing down on Minas Tirith and the Pelennor Fields littered with the dead in the Palantír, Denethor assumes the worst and will not be dissuaded from his mistaken belief.

There is also ample proof in the trilogy that Men, Elves, Dwarves and Hobbits are not orphans left to fend for themselves in the battle against Sauron. Chance, it seems, brings the Council of Elrond together in Rivendell; it also seems to be mere luck that Merry and Pippin encounter Treebeard in the forest and “wake up” the Ents. The appearance of Aragorn and his relief force in the Battle of the Pelennor Fields is practically a miracle in the eyes of Gondor and the Rohirrim.

But is it luck, or is it Providence – proof of a loving Creator guiding the creatures who are serving Him in their quest to fight evil? Tolkien and many of his biographers take the latter opinion, and so I think this allows The Lord of the Rings to check off this box perfectly.

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Star Wars

It is manifestly obvious that the original Star Wars films recognize that good and evil exist. The entire premise of the story is based around the heroes fighting an evil Empire which has taken control of the galaxy. Against all odds – against all hope – a Rebellion has been formed to destroy this wicked government. We therefore presume that some people in a galaxy far, far away believe good will triumph over evil –otherwise, why start a Rebellion at all?

More importantly, the adherents of the Force in Star Wars recognize a Light and a Dark Side at work in their universe. The Dark Side they know to be inherently malicious. To give in to it is to lose one’s soul. One could argue that capitulating to one’s bad feelings – anger, fear, hatred, etc. – allows the Dark Side to have some control over a person, Force-user or not.

In contrast the Jedi, while serving the will of the Force, retain their individuality and self-control. They actually tend to become better versions of themselves the longer they “work” for the Light Side, too. Just so, those who “use” the Dark Side invariably become worse and uglier versions of themselves the longer they use “their” power for their own gain. So these films definitely check the “recognition of good and evil’s existence; their ongoing war, and the eventual defeat of evil” box.

Next question: does Star Wars accept the fact that mankind (and aliens) come from outside of time and space and will one day return to the eternity from which they sprang? This point, for the original films, is somewhat debatable in regards to its being definite. Certainly, the Jedi and the Sith know that life does not end with death – the Sith would just prefer to avoid death altogether, while the Jedi are willing to accept it in service to the Force. The Force is said to be generated or created by life, so the concept of eternity seems somewhat lost on the characters in the movies. However, those who believe in the Force do believe in an afterlife, so the films probably scrape by acceptably in this area.

The third criteria – do the films show an understanding of the fact that mankind (and aliens) are, in some indefinable manner, fallen creatures capable of evil and yet are not left orphans – is easily confirmed. In his lust for power, Anakin Skywalker falls to the Dark Side, lays waste to the Jedi Order, kills his wife, and goes on to become the armored terror known as Darth Vader. This “twists” him, according to his old master, making him a distortion of the good man he once was. It is this “twisting” which allows him to say “That name no longer has any meaning for me” when Luke states he has accepted the fact that Vader was “once” Anakin Skywalker. In his service to evil, Vader has lost all that made him good and even human.

Han Solo, while an honorable man at heart, is a smuggler, a criminal. In the original theatrical release of the first Star Wars film, now titled A New Hope, Han shoots Greedo dead before the Rodian bounty hunter can fire. Lucas later edited the scene so that it looks like Greedo shoots before Han does. But in the original release Han, though he is a good man, proves he is not a saint or even a knight in shining armor by killing his enemy under the table.

Lando Calrissian is similarly imperfect, though he is not actually an evil man. After the Emperor and Vader, Jabba the Hutt is the character who most resembles evil incarnate. He feeds people to monsters, abuses women, and hangs a frozen Han Solo up on his wall by way of decoration. All of this proves the fact that Star Wars understands that mankind (and aliens) are fallen creatures prone to sin.

As for not being left orphans, Obi-Wan and Yoda recognize that the Force is somehow guiding and protecting those who serve it. It is easy for us to see as well. How else could we explain Luke and Leia’s successful concealment from their father and the Emperor for the majority of their lives? How else could Luke instinctively call Leia for help from the antenna at the base of Bespin, or survive alone on Hoth until Han found him? In a universe with no Higher Power, these things would not be as likely to work as they do if Someone were taking care of the heroes.

All of this makes it manifestly clear that Star Wars is a Romantic/Realisitc work, readers and future writers.

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Zoids: Chaotic Century

Finally, we come to the obscure television show I mentioned above. If you have not seen it before or even heard of it, the fact is that you shouldn’t need to see it in order to understand how it is a Romantic/Realistic work.

Let us raise the questions we asked above; does Zoids: Chaotic Century recognize that mankind comes from outside time and space, and that we are meant for eternity? Tacitly, it does. Religion does not play a particularly significant role in the story, but the series favorably mentions Christianity in its first episodes, the installment titled “Run, Wolf!”, and an episode called “The Blue Devil.” There is also a mention, albeit brief, of what is likely the Shinto religion in the episode “The Devil’s Maze.”

Additionally, the word “miracle” is often used during the series for nick-of-time events which save the day, or which provide the heroes with the power necessary to win a battle. More than once, characters bow their heads and clasp their hands in prayer. They are not mocked for this, and it seems to be another action that plays an important part in the story. So Chaotic Century quietly passes this test.

Next question: does this series see the reality and the war between good and evil, along with the fact that good will, eventually, win in the end? It takes time for the main villains of the story to appear, but when they do, they make up for their initial absence. While many of the lesser antagonists turn over a new leaf, the main enemies do not adjust their course away from the darkness they have chosen. The dormant villain who appears at two points in the series practically qualifies as evil itself. He and the others, from the beginning of the show onward, are all defeated. It takes time, but once it gets rolling, good wins out over evil in spectacular fashion here.

So yes, Chaotic Century recognizes that good and evil exist right from the start. The main villains take their time arriving onscreen, but that does not mean the series doesn’t recognize that good and evil exist from beginning to end.

Now we come to the third question: does the series show that man is, in some indefinable manner a fallen creature prone to evil, and yet not an orphan left to fend for himself?

Yes, it does. All of the villains, those who experience a change of heart and those who do not, perpetrate the evil they do with the full knowledge that they are doing wrong. The antagonists who leave their lives of wickedness behind each have compelling, believable motives for doing so, while those who do not are likewise plausible characters. In the same vein, the heroes are shown to be fallible human beings who can – and do – make mistakes or bad choices. They are not perfect. But they are good.

We can also easily see the tacit recognition of the fact that the heroes are not left orphans. Where else, after all, do miracles come from? There is implicit evidence that a Higher Power is guiding and protecting the protagonists on their adventures, providing them the boosts of power and strength they need to overcome the evil which threatens their world. Quite frankly, there is no other rational explanation for their victory in this series.

If you can see the Romantic Realism in these stories, future Romantic/Realistic writers, then you should have no trouble keeping to this path in your own writings. These stories need not be your models; you need not “riff off” of them to create your own worlds and characters. If you want to do that, there is no problem – so long as you do not plagiarize the stories. (We will discuss Plagiarism another day.) But as I said in my first post on inspiration, most people in this craft reuse previous ideas and concepts all the time. I have done it, George Lucas did it, Tolkien did it, and I am sure the writers behind Chaotic Century did it as well. There is nothing new under the sun –

Except for you, that is. There is not, nor will there ever be, another human being in the universe exactly like you. Only you can write the stories which present themselves to you in the hopes of being penned. You make each new story you tell different from the ones that came before, contemporaneously, or in the future. And while you share all the joys, faults, and feelings of mankind, you are singularly unique.

Never forget that, future writers. Whatever type of Romantic/Realistic story you decide to write, it could never have been told the way it is by anyone else but you.

If you liked this article, friend Caroline Furlong on Facebook or follow her here at www.carolinefurlong.wordpress.com. Her stories have been published in Cirsova’s Summer Special and Unbound III: Goodbye, Earth, while her poetry appeared in the now defunct Organic Ink, Vol. 2. She has also had stories published in Planetary Anthologies Lunaand Uranus*. Order them today!
*These are Amazon affiliate links. When you purchase something through it, this author receives a commission from Amazon at no extra charge to you, the buyer.

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